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The Rachel Maddow Show

News/Business. (2011)

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01:00:00

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mpeg2video

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mp2

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720

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480

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Us 12, America 7, Japan 6, Rachel 4, Natural Gas 3, Fukushima 3, Lee 3, Daiichi 3, United States 3, Tokyo 3, U.s. 3, David Lochbaum 2, Kelly 2, Motrin 2, Geico 2, Mmm 2, Bob 2, Maxwell House 1, Steve 1, Unit 1,
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  MSNBC    The Rachel Maddow Show    News/Business.  (2011)  

    March 15, 2011
    12:00 - 1:00am EDT  

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hour. nuclear fuel rods in a reactor like the ones in trouble in japan are about 12 feet long, about 12 feet long. this is 12 feet long, and they are skinny. calling them rods isn't exactly right because they're not solid, they are hollow. this is made of cardboard so i can hold it. can you see it is hollow? it is essentially a big straw. that's what they call these fuel rods. these straus themselves, the real ones, are made of metal, a metal called zir cone yum. inside that is uranium. the working part of the reactor, the part that makes it nuclear. when the reactor is working, uranium pellets in the fuel rods are creating fission. they are creating a nuclear reactor to generate heat. the whole point of nuclear power is that you create an environment in which fission
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happens. a nuclear chain reaction happens, but it is controlled, so it does not produce an explosion. it just generates heat in a controlled way instead. use that heat to essentially boil water. actually, you literally use it to boil water. boiling water makes steam, steam spins a turbine, and that makes electricity. that's the basic idea behind the 40-year-old reactors in japan in so much trouble now. when the reactor is on, in effect, the uranium pellets inside the big 12 foot long fuel rods are involved in a nuclear chain reaction generating heat. when they shut off the reactor in the normal course of events or because of something like an earthquake, they stop that nuclear reaction. now, in order to stop the nuclear reaction to do that, they move a bunch of control rods in among the fuel rods. the control rods stop the nuclear reaction from happening in an orderly way. i don't know if you ever had the chance to develop a photo in a dark room before everything went
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digital. you know how you put the photo, or may have seen it in a movie, somebody working with an actual -- with actual film and developing chemicals in an actual dark room. put the photo in the developer until the image comes in like you want it, then once it is in that, you put it in a different chemical bath to stop the developing. that's like the control rods. they stop the chain reaction. but the fuel rods, those pellets of uranium inside big metal straws, even when the reactor is turned off, they are still wicked hot. even though the reactor is off and not being used to boil water to make steam, to spin turbines to make electricity any more, the fuel rods still have to stay underwater because if they are not underwater, they get too hot to keep it together, to maintain their integrity. they start to melt. the first thing that happens is that the metal on the long metal tubes oxidizes.
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it rusts avery, very fast. when it breaks down, it splits. damage to the fuel rods is a partial nuclear meltdown. one of the things that is released into the air at the water level drops and the fuel rods get exposed to the air and the big metal straws start to oxidize, one of the gases is hydrogen, and it is explosive. they believe hydrogen explosion caused this to happen at one of the reactors friday night, daytime saturday japan time. monday morning, japan time, second reactor tame facility suffered the same type of hydrogen explosion. when we were told this weekend after the first explosion at the fukushima plant that they detected radioactive iodine in the atmosphere? why were they detecting those elements in the atmosphere after the explosion? those detections were indication
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that the fuel rods had been damaged. and that let some of the radioactive elements in that nuclear fuel get released, and that is not good. as i say, a partial nuclear meltdown. it doesn't sound good, it is not good. but it is not the same as a total nuclear meltdown which they are working to stave off. the explosions that happened at two reactors at the daiichi plant, these are explosions and happened at nuclear power plants, but these were not nuclear explosions. they were explosions caused by the inability to keep the fuel rods underwater and cool. the radioactivity released so far has been a sign that the fuel rods were damaged. the steam that's being vented, led out into the atmosphere to avoid the pressure building up too high around the reactor, that is mildly radioactively contaminated steam, contaminated by fuel rods being at least damaged. at least partially compromised. they kept up efforts to submerge
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the rods in sea water, even after they knew they were damaged, because they are trying to prevent further damage. as i said, what they think they have got is a partial meltdown. and that is bad, but what they are trying to avoid is an uncontrolled total meltdown in which those fuel rods wouldn't just be damaged, they would breakdown totally. if that happens, uranium lumps into the bottom of the reactor into a blob of radioactive lava, burning at several thousand degrees fahrenheit. if that happens, if total nuclear meltdown happens in a reactor, that pile of hot, radioactive lava, that pile of radioactive goo, will burn through almost everything around it, and we will be hoping that the last line of defense containment structures are capable of containing that melted fuel, keeping it from the outside world and from the earth, because if they are not, that would entail a much larger
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release of radioactivity, and that is not helpful for children or other living things. tonight, just a couple hours ago, we got word a third explosion had been heard on site at the fukushima plant. they have three reactors there they have been worried about at daiichi. two had explosions saturday and early today. now it appears the third reactor they were worried about suffered an explosion as well. the first two reactor explosions authorities say didn't result in unconstrained large radioactive release. containment vessels had survived the blast. the main containment vessel around the reactor itself had survived the blast, even as other walls had been blown down. well, tonight, reports from japan indicate the third blast may be more serious than the first two.
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it may have resulted in a breach of the internal containment vessel for the first time, may have. we do not have confirmation on that, it may have. again, an explosion is not the same as a meltdown. an explosion at a nuclear reactor is not the same as a nuclear explosion. what happens happened is that the inability to keep enough water circulating over the giant fuel rods, enough water to keep them cool, that has resulted in damaged nuclear fuel rods and that caused three explosions so far. and that provided us with the only conceivable thing that could make the whole world look at devastation this horrible and think we are as yet worried about something else, we are as yet worried about what might happen next, after this. joining us now, david lochbaum, a nuclear engineer and director of nuclear safety project of the union of concerned scientists. mr. lochbaum, thanks for being here. i appreciate your time. >> good afternoon, good evening, rachel. >> let me know first, i guess, if i got anything wrong there, if i got anything important wrong there or left anything important out.
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i am obviously a layman, trying to understand this for myself as well as make it understandable for viewers. >> it was a solid and accurate description of where we are today. >> okay. within the last couple hours, as i mentioned, a third explosion was reported at fukushima number 2 reactor. number 1 had explosion this weekend, number 3 did 24 hours ago. and now number 2 has happened as well. can we tell yet if this is a more consequential blast than the others or is this likely to be of the same consequence? >> the initial reports coming out of the facility are that this is the most severe explosion yet. the clearest sign of that seems to be that the pressure inside the containment structure on unit 2 is decaying off, would suggest that some of the air space or some of the volume inside containment is leaking out someplace, perhaps through a breach, a crack, a valve left open, but if the containment were intact, the pressure inside
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would be maintaining constant and not decaying as it is or reports show that pressure is dropping. >> in terms of that word containment, it is a word we use commonly not as jargon, it is meant to be several types of structure. containment could be the outside building that surrounds the reactor as a whole. that was what we saw the explosion do so much damage to in the first two explosions, but containment also refers to the smaller containment around the core itself, around the reactor itself? >> that's correct. these type of plants use defense and depth. there's two containment structures. there's the outer containment structure that was damaged by the explosions. that structure had completely surrounded the other containment structure, like containment within containment. the inner is primary containment, four to five feet thick concrete with inner steel liner two inches thick of steel
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to ride integrity against release of radioactivity. >> it is that primary containment vessel you are worried may have been compromised by the recent blast? >> initial reports hopefully turn out not to be true. initial reports are part of the containment called the pressure suppression pool or the toris, the round metal donut looking thing has been compromised. we don't know whether it was by the third blast the facility experienced or some other mechanism. pressure is reported to be dropping from inside containment. that would suggest that gas is leaking out somewhere. >> forgive me if i get this question wrong or if i say this in an ignorant way. as i understood it, even after there have been blasts at other
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facilities and that was reflecting damage to the fuel rods, there had not been any full meltdown of those facilities, so even after the blasts they kept up the effort to cool those facilities down to prevent further damage to the fuel rods, any further meltdown. with the type of damage that you are worried about that you're saying this lack of pressure might indicate, does that mean they will not be able to continue to cool this down? that they will not be able to essentially keep working on it to make it more safe? >> that's a good point, because if the containment is breached the way it has been suggested, not only can radioactivity escape through the pathway, but the sea water, the water being used to cool the reactor could also leak out that same crack or breach. if the water is leaking out faster than they can put it back in, they're going to have trouble cooling that reactor core, and things may get worse before they get better. if on the other hand they are able to put water in faster than it leaks out to whatever pathway, they should be able to continue cooling the reactor down to a cold shut down condition. >> one last question for you.
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authorities evacuated some workers from daiichi, they say there are about 50 people left on site. if it turns out to have been a very -- if there turns out to have been a large radioactive leak with the most recent explosion, if it becomes too dangerous for people to work there, just too radioactive, is there a risk they have to stop whatever they are doing to prevent further melt downs? these three reactors are right next to each other. >> that does pose a challenge. that came up in chernobyl. it exploded and caused radiation to go all over the other areas. there were three reactors in the same proximity like japan. workers there were able to deal with the other three reactors. that widespread radiation at chernobyl is worse than what we have seen or suggested so far in japan, so it seems like the workers would be able to handle
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the other two units, and even the stricken unit at japan like they did in chernobyl. >> david lochbaum, nuclear engineer, director of nuclear safety project at the union of concerned scientists, thank you for helping us understand this, sir. this is a dramatic and bad night in this news, but i appreciate your time. >> thank you very much. >> thanks. >> there is a reason in the english language and in american english we use the word meltdown so much as a metaphor. that's because it always sounds like hyperbole. it sounds like you are overstating it no matter what context you use it in. when we mean the word literally, it is worth being precise. it is not a good idea to let your imagination run with it. the facts are understandable and on nights like tonight worth understanding. please stay with us. they steam and bake the actual whole grain while the other guy's flake is more processed. mmm. great grains. the whole whole grain cereal. but you can still refinance to a fixed rate
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at the news conference on the third explosion at the japanese reactor, reporters were visibly angry with the company's explanation of what happened with that explosion. to our understanding of an already stressful situation in japan, we can also add japan's history frankly of scandals and coverups related to nuclear power and safety. in 1995 when a reactor caught fire, the government run agency in charge of the reactor tried to cover up how bad the fire was by releasing a doctored video of the accident. in 2002, at the company that owns the plants currently in crisis, the president and four other executives were forced to
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quit when it was revealed they had been falsifying safety records at nuclear plants for years, dating back to the 1980s. another power plant operator was force today shut down a reactor in 2007 after they acknowledged they covered up 15 minutes of year disaster in 1999 when an accident involving three fuel rods caused an out of control nuclear chain reaction. the quote was it happened around two or three a.m. people probably thought no one would notice. this crisis is, of course, now unfolding inch different circumstances. but some of the reporters' anger at that press conference reflect the suspicion and frustration that we are still dependent for much of the crucial information in events like this on sources that have a vested interest in keeping us calm and deflecting suspicion and anger from themselves. it is probably unavoidable and it is frustrating as all heck. and they've come to a point where it's overwhelming.
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it is now around 10:20 a.m. in japan, beginning of day five in what has been one of the worst natural disasters in modern history. this is typically still the search and rescue phase of a disaster like this. at this hour, the rescue mission does continue in japan, but at this point day five of the disaster, it appears to be more of a recovery mission rather than one of further dramatic rescues. japanese troops, firemen, police have been mobilized to work in this rescue effort and rescue crews from other countries, including the united states, are now on the ground in japan
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assisting in this effort. but the sad reality of this disaster is that there do not appear to be many survivors to find. the vast majority of victims appear to have been killed by the earthquake and tsunami, rather than injured by it. further complicating the rescue effort are enormous aftershocks that continue to come, one after the other. search and rescue in soma had to be called off after a 6.2 aftershock struck the area. the japanese coast was hit by more than 150 aftershocks since the initial earthquake struck friday. the immediate needs on the ground are really the basics of human existence, food, water, shelter. and while japanese troops hand out things like blankets and bottles of water, local officials say only 10% of supplies needed made it through to affected areas. those that managed to survive the initial disaster friday are not only in desperate need of the basics, but there is another concern brewing now.
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scenes like this are becoming increasingly frequent through the japanese countryside. hazmat teams testing survivors for radiation exposure. about 180,000 survivors have been evacuated from the area surrounding the country's damaged nuclear reactors, and possibly of radiation sickness is now among concerns. effect of radiation exposure in humans is something that you can be precise about. there are a wide range of outcomes that prolonged or in some cases brief exposure to radiation can lead to. the worst end are things like after chernobyl in 1986. 28 firefighters and plant workers exposed to large amounts of radiation in the immediate aftermath of that accident ultimately died of acute radiation sickness. mostly within three weeks of being exposed. and that's sort of the key to understanding this. radiation sickness is extremely rare, of course, but the greater the exposure to radiation in terms of proximity and time, the
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more severe and more immediate the symptoms are. so far in japan, we have preliminary reports of several workers treated for possible radiation exposure or sickness. today we got news radiation exposure was detected in 17 members of the u.s. navy doing relief mission to japan. it was equivalent to one month's worth of radiation. the way they were decontaminated was through using soap and water. the disaster in japan is, of course, still on-going. one of the ways the japanese government is trying to avoid nuclear meltdown at the reactors is by periodically releasing steam into the atmosphere of the reactors, steam that is radio actively contaminated. officials say the radioactive releases don't pose a major health risk, but if they continue doing this, does it have a cumulative effect? japanese officials estimate about 190 people have been exposed at some level to some
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radiation from the plant within the last four days. should we expect that number to go up and what are the potential long term effects here. joining us now, david brenner, the director for center of radiological research. columbia medical center. thanks for being here. appreciate it. >> appreciate it. >> did i get anything wrong? >> you had it right. >> i keep saying bad news things leading into people that know it better and i keep hoping i got it wrong. the two isotopes we've been hearing about in terms of what's worrying, iodine 131 and seizure seize yum 137. yum 137. are those, can you tell us about what to worry about with those tickle -- particular elements. >> there are a whole panoply of radio isotopes, those are the two common ones, but there is another that's a bone seeker, goes to the bone.
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there are dozens of other ones. cesium probably the one to be most concerned of. >> why? >> because of the chemical nature it exposes the whole body. iodine only exposes the thyroid, strontium is a bone seeker, only exposes bone. seizure yum exposes the whole body. >> in terms of what you know so far about the radioactive steam release and the evacuation area and the number of people exposed so far, do you expect that this is going to be an event that effects a large geographic number of people in terms of important radioactive exposure or is it likely to be confined to people in the immediate area around the reactors? >> there are two populations. there is the population inside the reactor, folks working as
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you were describing before to try and pour water into the core and try and keep the cores cool. now, i think there's a significant possibility that some of them are going to be significantly exposed to radiation, to high doses, and it's certainly possible to lethal doses of radiation. we can contrast that with the general population outside the nuclear plant, and as you say, they've actually been evacuated for a few miles away. so now we have a very large population exposed at least as far as we know now to pretty low doses of radiation. we'll know better in the next couple days whether that dose of radiation becomes higher. but all in all, it is still going to be a low dose of radiation, the general population are not going to be exposed to high levels of the sort that the nuclear workers are. so there are going to be different consequences for the two different populations. >> in terms of the broader population, thinking about what
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might be a manageable amount of radioactive exposure, i realize it is a fluid situation, you don't know how much radiation will be released into the atmosphere, but one of the things that was discussed was distribution of iodine tablets for thyroid cancer. how important is that? >> it is not the appropriate way to deal with the issue of iodine 131. the way that gets radioactive iodine gets into the body is a crowd of iodine falls to the ground. cows eat grass which has that radioactive iodine in it. the milk that they produce has radioactive iodine in it, and we drink the milk. so the simple way to avoid the iodine problem is simply not to drink the milk and that works. doesn't work with all the other radio isotopes. for the iodine, simply don't drink the milk. >> not like you use cows and milk production as an example of
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one way you can be contaminated, that's the specific route? >> that's the specific route. iodine pills aren't going to do harm, but they won't help. the real problem is people need to stop drinking the milk. >> we talked about radiation sickness. this is something we mostly think about for people working inside fukushima's nuclear plant at this point, trying to stop that. in terms of symptoms and prognosis they are likely to be undergoing, what will authorities be watching for, and what can they do for people significantly exposed. this isn't anything that's going to affect anybody outside japan and probably nobody outside the plants, i worry about the people and think of them because we all depend on them getting their jobs done. >> absolutely. we can already say these will be the heros that are going into some very dangerous situations.
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so the first thing that one can look for is vomiting. that's one of the very first symptoms of high radiation exposure. but really, there's a panoply of symptoms from being seriously ill in the first few hours. very likely nobody will die within the first few days. it takes several weeks typically for people to die of radiation exposure. and again, only for super high radiation doses. and there is a lot that can be done for people that have high radiation exposures. whether you die from infection, the blood forming organs, bone marrow gets damaged, the lining of the gut, the gastrointestinal system gets damaged and you infection. so good nursing is key. good nursing, antibiotics, and you can really bring back an awful lot of people that would otherwise die with just fairly simple procedures.
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>> simple, good quality medical care. >> good quality health care. >> to the extent people may be suffering from those things, it will be a small and defined population that offers them hope, even people in the worst case scenarios. >> unless you get a super high lethal dose, most of these people will survive, even though they have high radiation exposures. >> to be clear if this is freaking you out at home, you should know u.s. officials say they don't expect any of the radiation leaks so far will affect any part of the united states and what's been released so far is blowing out to sea and is becoming dilute. that's the best news as we watch this unfold. david, thanks for coming in and helping. >> my pressure. >> we will get a report live from japan next.
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and brewed the coffee. we heated the bathwater and gave kelly a cleaner ride to school. cooked the cube steaks and steamed the veggies. entertained dad, and mom, and a neighbor or two. kept watch on the house when they slept. and tomorrow we could do even more. we're cleaner, domestic, abundant and ready now. we're america's natural gas. the smarter power today. learn more at anga.us. they call it the town that disappeared. all we could find was a shattered footprint at the end of a washed out road. >> it just doesn't stop. >> some 17,000 people used to live and fish here.
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now close to half of them it is feared are under the mud. the racing wall of water some 30 feet high was only a half hour away when the warning went out. at the city's main hospital, that wasn't enough time. the water took everybody. she only survived getting as many patients as high as she could as fast as she could. >> that was lee cowan. reporting on nightly news. he joins us from japan. good to have you on the phone with us. >> thanks, rachel. good to hear from you. >> you were one of the few reporters to make it north to the part of the country most devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, lee. what's happening on the ground today? this search and rescue, is this cleanup or just getting food and water, survivors? what's happening?
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>> you know, the places we've seen, there is no real search and rescue effort going on. the town we were in yesterday as you saw is so devastated, i think badly, some people have almost given up. the only people we saw on the ground were the few survivors trying to go back and pick through what they could find, if anything, and take it with them to a shelter. the choppers circling overhead, some we thought were u.s. choppers, couldn't tell, they were high, other than that, that's the only movement. it was deathly quiet, silent, no activity. there is some effort to try and bulldoze some of the debris out of the way so people could get in and out, but those seem to be largely volunteers for the most part. many of the check points that we arrived at to try to get to the coastal regions were also run by volunteers. it seems as though --
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>> i think we just lost lee. if we can get lee back from northern japan, we will absolutely do that. robert bezel is joining us now from tokyo, who has just done a report on nightly news tonight about this third blast at the fukushima reactor in northern japan. bob, what can you tell us about what you learned tonight. >> reporter: rachel, it is ominous news. the company that owns the power plant said that one of the reactors, reactor number 2, where there was explosion yesterday, at a press conference this morning, they said that explosion was not like the other two, which was outside buildings, it was actually in the dome that is supposed to contain the radiation, and that radiation has now leaked out into the environment. as a result of that, they evacuated the plant, except for
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the core staff that they could keep there. now, i have to point out that the amount of radiation so far they say has been measured is nothing like it was at chernobyl that caused dozens of deaths in a few weeks and thousands over time. it is a high level of radiation, dangerous level of radiation, but this changes the situation enormously. we no longer have a possible bad outcome, we have a bad outcome. and in terms of rating this, this nuclear disaster going on and nowhere near ended here in japan is worse than three mile island in the sense that very little radiation escaped for three mile island. it is not as bad as chernobyl, but now the second worst nuclear disaster ever known, and it is not going to be shut down any time soon. rachel? >> bob, to be clear, what we have on site at these facilities, we learned so much
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on reporting this the past few days, is the internal containment vessel around the reactor, there is also a secondary containment vessel which is in effect the building that surrounds the entire reactor complex. for us to have had a significant radiation leak into the environment, does that mean officials are saying both of the containment units have been breached, both the outer building and smaller containment vessel around the dome? >> that's a good question, not clear at all, and not clear the smallest has been breached yet. because the core nuclear material in there which had been an on-going nuclear reaction was shut down, but it is still extremely hot and they've been trying to cool it off with sea water. when they pour that sea water in there, sometimes enormous amount of steam builds up. it could have been a blast of
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steam and hydrogen outside the metal reactor into the other one, and the hydrogen tends to explode, and that could have been what caused the breach. so there is no indication yet that that critical metal one was breached. but they are talking about the nuclear material inside melting, and it is so hot that it could potentially melt the metal. that's potentially. we don't know what's happened. every physicist is pointing out we are now in unchartered territories. we are in a situation that never happened with a nuclear reactor, except for three mile island which was contained with release of radiation we already had here. so we need to get more details. the press conference was not -- easy to follow because it was in japanese. they were skirting a lot of issues, and honestly, they don't understand themselves what is happening, which makes these more frightening than they already are. >> you said the reactor core continues to be very, very hot,
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which is why they have been adding sea water to it. with the type of explosion they had and the type of damage they think they have had, can they continue their efforts to keep those fuel rods submerged in sea water? can they keep doing in effect mitigation work to prevent further damage to the fuel rods, further meltdown, or does this mean their ability to even keep that sea water there is also impaired? >> the answer to that is i don't think anybody knows that right now. what happened with this reactor number two that's gotten into big problems is that the water circulation that normally works to keep it going had been continuing with some power generation in that one reactor. they thought that was working. but apparently, it failed. they announced two things yesterday. they announced that the water circulation had failed, then later on they announced that there was an explosion.
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and the explosion seems to have been inside the reactor. so this reactor was behaving differently. they thought they had it under control with the water. the water wasn't working. fuel analogs became exposed, so they had to try to pump in sea water. when they tried to pump in sea water is when things went badly awry. whether they can still pump in sea water or what happens next they haven't said, and i think they probably just don't know now and are trying to figure it out. >> are you expecting, bob, we will get any sort of quantitative measure how big that radiation release has been, either from international officials or from japanese officials? >> they gave a quantitative figure today, and it is around the reactor, about as much radiation as a human being is typically exposed to in a year. we get radiation from natural sources, you get radiation from
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when you fly in airplanes, when you get an x-ray. so we're not talking about the kind of radiation that makes people drop dead, or even increases cancer risk substantially, but if in one hour you're getting as much as you get in a year, clearly that's a lot of radiation in that immediate area. the radiation levels will go down as it gets disbursed. there is another thing happening here today, there's a storm coming in, a weather pattern, and it shifted winds on the ground that has been blowing radiation out to sea, it switched them to the west, which is going inland over this area that already suffered so severely from the earthquake and tsunami, so as if the poor people didn't have enough to contend with, now they have serious amounts of radiation coming their way, if it remains at that level, it is not a serious matter, when it gets a few miles from the plant. they evacuated the area around it as we know, they have given
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out iodine pills which is preventive for thyroid cancer, and there's not a lot more that can be done now. if it doesn't get to go higher levels of radiation, it will be fine. but this is unknown territory. never been a reactor that behaved like this before. as a result, no one knows where it is going next. >> nbc's chief correspondent robert bezel in tokyo. thank you very much for helping us understand this. we really appreciate it. we will be back with congressman and physicist rush holt after this. the best approach to food is to keep it whole for better nutrition. that's what they do with great grains cereal. they steam and bake the actual whole grain while the other guy's flake is more processed. mmm.
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we are still learning how massive friday's earthquake actually was. it was originally rated by japanese scientists as 8.8. sunday, japan's meteorological agency issued a correction. making it a 9.0. friday's earthquake off the coast of japan was so powerful, we know it moved the japan coastline, changed the balance of the planet. because of the earthquake according to scientists, japan is wider than it was before, and the earthquake is believed to have shortened the day, the entire day of the whole earth by a couple millionths of a second.
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it tilted the axis slightly. japan is one of the most prepared countries in the world, a country that celebrates, nationally observes disaster prevention day every year. they have elaborate earthquake and tsunami early warning systems, comprehensive public and private evacuation plans and super strict building codes but it was not enough. the earthquake and tsunami that followed were devastating. thousands of homes were devastated, washed away, hundreds of roads were damaged. there were explosions at three different reactors. at a nuclear powerulant in northern japan. as the "new york times" reported 40% of the 22,000 mile coastline is lined with sea walls and other structures meant to protect against highways, typhoons and tsunamis. but they weren't enough. it washed over the sea walls meant to protect the power lines including one where explosions happened. a lead being expert told the
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types that the sea walls at the plants probably could not handle tsunami waves at the height that instruct them and on the assumption that the sea walls were high enough to protect against a likely tsunami. as we plan for the worst casy is nario, are we under estimating what the worst case is? it's important that we know how likely a really, really big earthquake is not just for insurance purposes, but to plan our own infrastructure. as we work on preparedness, we need to know the disasters we should be prepared for. at diablo canyon, they are in the fight with local residents and wants to extend the operating license they note the recent discovery of a fault line a mile offshore from the plant. they would like see new seismic studies first. they are designed to with stand
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up to a 7.5 magnitude earthquake after the upgrade, the one in japan this weekend is considered to have been a 9.0. joining sus ruus is rush holt. thank you very much for being with us. >> guard to be with you and thanks for the reports from bob and lee. this is a good program >> thank you very much. nice of you to say that. let me get your reaction to what bob was talking about the news that this third explosion at this reactor in japan may be more serious than the previous two and there was a release of radio activity. an american public listening to you tonight thinking of you as a wngman and a physicist. what's your understanding of the severity? >> it is troubling and this is one of the worst, maybe the second worse nuclear accidents in the history of nuclear power.
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it is supposed to be rare. these are well-designed plants the japanese plant are operated i think at least as well as plants in the united states. the designs are similar to what we find in the united states. they have a lot of experience and yet the rare events seem to be occurring every decade or two. the ones that are supposed to occur only every many thousands of years we had reminders in the last weeks that our oil supply is perilous whether you are talking about gulf coast explosions or libyan up risings. we have another reminder that the hopes for nuclear power are perilous as well. it underscores that we need a good energy plan. we don't know how we are going to get out of our energy predicament. >> in terms of comparing this to previous disasters, what
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happened at chernobyl is complicated, but for me reading about it as i understand it it seems like a poorly designed experiment and three-mile island was a significant part of the cause. these are well built and well run as much as anywhere else in the world. i worry that our comfort with nuclear power is based not on a lack of organization or lack of our ability to believe that we can be out of our jobs, but a lack of imagination of how bad things are that the earth can throw at us. are we basing our faith on fundamentally unsound assumptions about how stable the world is in terms of climate and earthquakes. >> we might call it human error and they put the generators on low ground. the point is none of these things are free or easy or
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cheap. 10,000 americans are dying prematurely because of our use of coal. there is no free energy. the nuclear power has problems with safety, mostly under control. with disposal of the used fuel, mostly under control. i must say the big issue, the looming issue that i think determines how aggressively we should move forward with nuclear power is the connection with weapons weapon process liveration. far more people would be killed and far more damage to society would be done with nuclear weapons than with any nuclear power plant accident. i know the industry said no, we are not in the weapons business we are in the power business. there is no connection. then why is everybody so worried
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about iran? of course there is a connection. that has to be figured in to the future of nuclear power. >> even when things don't go wrong. when used as directed. >> that's right. >> rush holt, democrat of new jersey and a physicist, it's a pleasure to have you with us. >> good to be with you. >> we'll be right back. [ female announcer ] sometimes you need tomorrow to finish what you started today. for the aches and sleeplessness in between, there's motrin pm. no other medicine, not even advil pm, is more effective for pain and sleeplessness. motrin pm.
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